Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Brother's and Father's Old Electric Trains

Who seeing such a title to a posting isn't hoping that these "old electric trains" are still available and planning to offer me "beaucoups of cash" for them? Please don't tell me - the trains are sold!

There were 2 sets of 3 boxes each. One set of boxes contained the carefully glued and very detailed plastic houses, a train station, a hotel, a gas station with separate little gas pump islands, and even an oil refinery! These were sold by Kibri, a company in West Germany, in boxes for hobbyists to put together themselves. My Dad went into a second or third childhood with the Kibri trains soon after he retired. Dad had been a dentist, so he was good at working on tiny parts with his hands. He had done a beautiful job putting together the little houses. I guess he had some trains and tracks and had built one of those model train cities that hobbyists build. I don't remember seeing it, only that I knew it was a passion of his for a while. We had ended up with the three boxes of completed buildings. I remember that sometime early in the 15 years we have lived in our current house, I was going to try to sell off the train stuff, but my younger daughter had asked that I keep the little houses for her. I left them in boxes in the attic, and my daughter never touched them. She grew up anyway, but with not even the slightest sentiment or interest in the little buildings.

The other set of boxes were in the garage lo all these 15 years! They contained what was left of what I considered to be my older brother's electric trains. I believe I was told (today) that these were 27-gauge trains, whereas the Kibri items were a mixture of 0 and some other small gauge. These electric trains were hefty, made of metal and plastic, with metal tracks that fitted together via a metal hole on one side and post on the other of each piece of track. I always liked how snugly they fit together! My memories of these trains from childhood are from 3 eras; one when my father and brother had mysterious male bonding over them, when I was very small and just occasionally got a glimpse of the big table in the basement where the trains were set up. This was probably when my Dad had bought the trains...for my brother, of course. Later, my brother did set up and run the trains by himself sometimes, and I sometimes played with the set up trains. Later still, I proudly figured out how to set up and run the trains by myself. I don't remember much about that part; I think the joy faded a little after meeting the challenge, because the best part of the trains was really my brother's involvement. My small Steiff stuffed animals could sit in or on one of the cars, or we would just pretend that there were people doing things in the train world. At the system's height, there were 2 "transformers" to drive the trains: the original one, about the size of a telephone of the '50s and '60s and then a new one what was more squared and that I think my brother might have bought as he matured into taking over the trains. Sometimes 2 trains would run at the same time, and we would use the track switching button to divert a train to an inner loop, just at the last minute before the trains would crash. We did not purposely crash the trains, at least I don't remember us doing that. I remember the chugging sound of the trains, the whistle that blew when you pressed a button, and which I sold in the batch today, and the smoke pellets made of a soft rubbery material, that smelled like nothing else. If I ever smell that smell again, I will know just what it is!

Among my brother's trains was a box of tracks, a bunch of little switches and wires, a hand-operated plastic pair of intersection gates, 2 engine/tender sets, one slightly bigger than the other, a sort of crane car, my favorite box car with a little man in it and little rectangular metal boxes. When the box car stopped on top of a certain switch, the door would open and the little man would come out, pushing a little metal box out of the train car door. I never got enough of watching this!  I sold the car today, complete with little man and 2 of the boxes. I guess there were originally 4 or maybe 6 boxes. There was also a set of 4 cars completing a once-considered-sleek aluminum passenger train. There were plastic strips running along the "windows" of the cars with black silhouettes of people on them. When the trains were in their prime, these cars were lit up from the inside, so you could see the people! There were some cars I never did find very interesting, such as one carrying what were supposed to be logs that didn't do anything. There were I kept only one car: a green rectangular car that just holds things. I have put my sticky note pads in it and it is sitting on my desk.

This summer we had been focusing on the attic. So, I had given my (now grown up) daughter an ultimatum that she either take ownership the three boxes of Kibri buildings or allow me to find a new home for them. They were in my office to get rid of. Years ago, I had clipped a tiny classified ad from someone looking for model trains to buy, and I had talked with the guy briefly. I found the ad last week, but the phone number was no longer in service. I took some photos and put them on Craigslist for what I thought was a low price for the batch. A man answered the ad and told me that he deals in model trains. He was interested in the buildings, and when I mentioned that I had some other trains to sell, he suggested I get them all out for him to look at. So I got the trains out of the garage and dusted them off. Actually, they were well-packed and not very dusty. I phoned my brother to give him one more chance to claim the trains, since it had been quite a few years since we had discussed the old items that I had collected from among our parents' things but which had really belonged to him. He said he had been thinking lately of his old erector set and might like to see that again but that he had no interest in the trains.

In preparation for someone coming to the house to look at all the train stuff, I spent some time looking at Ebay completed sales as well as model train prices on some hobbyist websites. I wrote up an inventory and noted the prices it looked like things were worth. On a dealer's website, I saw that dealers tended to pay about half the value for trains. I was prepared and had a top figure of the worth as compiled from the Internet and a bottom figure of what I hoped to ask for the batch. I was pleased with myself for spending the time I felt was necessary to do due diligence on these items that would not come round again.

The baby-boomer couple arrived to look at the trains, and the man in charge told me in no uncertain terms that prices are down compared to any other time. He said his sales at the local annual model train show last year were less than half those of the year before. We had a nice chat about all things trains. He showed me that the Kibri buildings were from 2 separate sizes of sets - the doors to the buildings were clearly of two different sizes, some being about 3/4 of an inch tall and some about an inch. I can't help wondering whether my Dad knew about this. My guess is that he just liked the hotel and the train station and didn't care that they were created for differently scaled setups.

When the dealer offered me about a third of my lower-prepared price, essentially about a sixth of what I had calculated as total worth, my greed was deflated. I wasn't too surprised, and I felt that he was being honest about prices. He suggested that although the sales prices listed on Ebay might not even be legitimate (you bid up my train and I'll mark it sold but not really sell it to you and then list it again under another name), I could probably get better prices if I were to go through the hoops of listing on Ebay. He even suggested I wait and contact him again later. I had mixed feelings during the negotiations. It was difficult for me, very stressful. Reasons to sell: I wanted to be rid of the trains, I liked the couple that wanted to buy them, and I knew I'd be stressed about having to list these trains on Ebay, especially since I didn't even have the capability to test the equipment to see whether it worked. I knew that selling an item in working order and cleaned up would bring a higher price, but I was afraid to use any solvent to clean the trains and I knew I couldn't make any claims as to their useability. Reasons to keep were at first just to see how well I could do on Ebay. The decision was evident to me when I began to fret about the possibility of these nice folks leaving me with all these boxes of stuff to repack and try to sell again later.

I sold the trains to the guy for a little more than he originally offered. Then I was seized with the familiar and terrible anxiety of seller's remorse. Maybe I should have kept one of those very cool detailed old engines, made of 1950s materials, that are never to be made again! I could look at it to bring back the memories. Put it on a shelf, as if there will ever be an extra shelf in my home. Maybe sell it for beaucoups of cash at some later date. I had panic thoughts of offering the guy some money to buy back one of the engines. I really do prefer itemized sales; the package deal tends to have a life of its own. It was highly possible that this dealer really was offering to buy mostly those engines and would renege on the whole deal if the engines weren't included. I didn't want any of the train stuff badly enough to risk being stuck with all of it! I let him pack up the trains.

The anxiety is passing, and my mind is slowly letting go of the trains. I feel a little raw, with a little sense of loss hanging on, as I have often felt when experiencing this kind of remorse. I wish the feeling hadn't happened. My daughters are very sure I won't miss the trains. They are very sure they will never have any remorse that they didn't keep the trains and sell them "to become billionaires" when they reach the age I am now.